A Clergyman's Daughter

and also great lumps of elm root which kept smouldering till

  morning. On some nights the fires were so enormous that twenty

  people could sit round them in comfort, and there was singing far

  into the night, and telling of stories and roasting of stolen

  apples. Youths and girls slipped off to the dark lanes together,

  and a few bold spirits like Nobby set out with sacks and robbed the

  neighbouring orchards, and the children played hide-and-seek in the

  dusk and harried the nightjars which haunted the camp and which, in

  their cockney ignorance, they imagined to be pheasants. On

  Saturday nights fifty or sixty of the pickers used to get drunk in

  the pub and then march down the village street roaring bawdy songs,

  to the scandal of the inhabitants, who looked on the hopping season

  as decent provincials in Roman Gaul might have looked on the yearly

  incursion of the Goths.

  When finally you managed to drag yourself away to your nest in the

  straw, it was none too warm or comfortable. After that first

  blissful night, Dorothy discovered that straw is wretched stuff to

  sleep in. It is not only prickly, but, unlike hay, it lets in the

  draught from every possible direction. However, you had the chance

  to steal an almost unlimited number of hop-pokes from the fields,

  and by making herself a sort of cocoon of four hop-pokes, one on

  top of the other, she managed to keep warm enough to sleep at any

  rate five hours a night.

  4

  As to what you earned by hop-picking, it was just enough to keep

  body and soul together, and no more.

  The rate of pay at Cairns's was twopence a bushel, and given good

  hops a practised picker can average three bushels an hour. In

  theory, therefore, it would have been possible to earn thirty

  shillings by a sixty-hour week. Actually, no one in the camp came

  anywhere near this figure. The best pickers of all earned thirteen

  or fourteen shillings a week, and the worst hardly as much as six

  shillings. Nobby and Dorothy, pooling their hops and dividing the

  proceeds, made round about ten shillings a week each.

  There were various reasons for this. To begin with, there was the

  badness of the hops in some of the fields. Again, there were the

  delays which wasted an hour or two of every day. When one

  plantation was finished you had to carry your bin to the next,

  which might be a mile distant; and then perhaps it would turn out

  that there was some mistake, and the set, struggling under their

  bins (they weighed a hundredweight), would have to waste another

  half-hour in traipsing elsewhere. Worst of all, there was the

  rain. It was a bad September that year, raining one day in three.

  Sometimes for a whole morning or afternoon you shivered miserably

  in the shelter of the unstripped bines, with a dripping hop-poke

  round your shoulders, waiting for the rain to stop. It was

  impossible to pick when it was raining. The hops were too slippery

  to handle, and if you did pick them it was worse than useless, for

  when sodden with water they shrank all to nothing in the bin.

  Sometimes you were in the fields all day to earn a shilling or

  less.

  This did not matter to the majority of the pickers, for quite half

  of them were gypsies and accustomed to starvation wages, and most

  of the others were respectable East Enders, costermongers and small

  shopkeepers and the like, who came hop-picking for a holiday and

  were satisfied if they earned enough for their fare both ways and a

  bit of fun on Saturday nights. The farmers knew this and traded on

  it. Indeed, were it not that hop-picking is regarded as a holiday,

  the industry would collapse forthwith, for the price of hops is now

  so low that no farmer could afford to pay his pickers a living

  wage.

  Twice a week you could 'sub' up to the amount of half your

  earnings. If you left before the picking was finished (an

  inconvenient thing for the farmers) they had the right to pay you

  off at the rate of a penny a bushel instead of twopence--that is,

  to pocket half of what they owed you. It was also common knowledge

  that towards the end of the season, when all the pickers had a fair

  sum owing to them and would not want to sacrifice it by throwing up

  their jobs, the farmer would reduce the rate of payment from

  twopence a bushel to a penny halfpenny. Strikes were practically

  impossible. The pickers had no union, and the foremen of the sets,

  instead of being paid twopence a bushel like the others, were paid

  a weekly wage which stopped automatically if there was a strike;

  so naturally they would raise Heaven and earth to prevent one.

  Altogether, the farmers had the pickers in a cleft stick; but it

  was not the farmers who were to blame--the low price of hops was

  the root of the trouble. Also as Dorothy observed later, very few

  of the pickers had more than a dim idea of the amount they earned.

  The system of piecework disguised the low rate of payment.

  For the first few days, before they could 'sub', Dorothy and Nobby

  very nearly starved, and would have starved altogether if the other

  pickers had not fed them. But everyone was extraordinarily kind.

  There was a party of people who shared one of the larger huts a

  little farther up the row, a flower-seller named Jim Burrows and a

  man named Jim Turle who was vermin man at a large London restaurant,

  who had married sisters and were close friends, and these people had

  taken a liking to Dorothy. They saw to it that she and Nobby should

  not starve. Every evening during the first few days May Turle, aged

  fifteen, would arrive with a saucepan full of stew, which was

  presented with studied casualness, lest there should be any hint of

  charity about it. The formula was always the same:

  'Please, Ellen, mother says as she was just going to throw this

  stew away, and then she thought as p'raps you might like it. She

  ain't got no use for it, she says, and so you'd be doing her a

  kindness if you was to take it.'

  It was extraordinary what a lot of things the Turles and the

  Burrowses were 'just going to throw away' during those first few

  days. On one occasion they even gave Nobby and Dorothy half a

  pig's head ready stewed; and besides food they gave them several

  cooking pots and a tin plate which could be used as a frying-pan.

  Best of all, they asked no uncomfortable questions. They knew well

  enough that there was some mystery in Dorothy's life--'You could

  see,' they said, 'as Ellen had COME DOWN IN THE WORLD'--but they

  made it a point of honour not to embarrass her by asking questions

  about it. It was not until she had been more than a fortnight at

  the camp that Dorothy was even obliged to put herself to the

  trouble of inventing a surname.

  As soon as Dorothy and Nobby could 'sub', their money troubles were

  at an end. They lived with surprising ease at the rate of one and

  sixpence a day for the two of them. Fourpence of this went on

  tobacco for Nobby, and fourpence-halfpenny on a loaf of bread; and

  they s
pent about sevenpence a day on tea, sugar, milk (you could

  get milk at the farm at a halfpenny a half-pint), and margarine and

  'pieces' of bacon. But, of course, you never got through the day

  without squandering another penny or two. You were everlastingly

  hungry, everlastingly doing sums in farthings to see whether you

  could afford a kipper or a doughnut or a pennyworth of potato

  chips, and, wretched as the pickers' earnings were, half the

  population of Kent seemed to be in conspiracy to tickle their money

  out of their pockets. The local shopkeepers, with four hundred

  hop-pickers quartered upon them, made more during the hop season

  than all the rest of the year put together, which did not prevent

  them from looking down on the pickers as cockney dirt. In the

  afternoon the farm hands would come round the bins selling apples

  and pears at seven a penny, and London hawkers would come with

  baskets of doughnuts or water ices or 'halfpenny lollies'. At

  night the camp was thronged by hawkers who drove down from London

  with vans of horrifyingly cheap groceries, fish and chips, jellied

  eels, shrimps, shop-soiled cakes, and gaunt, glassy-eyed rabbits

  which had lain two years on the ice and were being sold off at

  ninepence a time.

  For the most part it was a filthy diet upon which the hop-pickers

  lived--inevitably so, for even if you had the money to buy proper

  food, there was no time to cook it except on Sundays. Probably it

  was only the abundance of stolen apples that prevented the camp

  from being ravaged by scurvy. There was constant, systematic

  thieving of apples; practically everyone in the camp either stole

  them or shared them. There were even parties of young men

  (employed, so it was said, by London fruit-costers) who bicycled

  down from London every week-end for the purpose of raiding the

  orchards. As for Nobby, he had reduced fruit-stealing to a

  science. Within a week he had collected a gang of youths who

  looked up to him as a hero because he was a real burglar and had

  been in jail four times, and every night they would set out at dusk

  with sacks and come back with as much as two hundredweight of

  fruit. There were vast orchards near the hopfields, and the

  apples, especially the beautiful little Golden Russets, were lying

  in piles under the trees, rotting, because the farmers could not

  sell them. It was a sin not to rake them, Nobby said. On two

  occasions he and his gang even stole a chicken. How they managed

  to do it without waking the neighbourhood was a mystery; but it

  appeared that Nobby knew some dodge of slipping a sack over a

  chicken's head, so that it 'ceas'd upon the midnight with no

  pain'--or at any rate, with no noise.

  In this manner a week and then a fortnight went by, and Dorothy was

  no nearer to solving the problem of her own identity. Indeed, she

  was further from it than ever, for except at odd moments the

  subject had almost vanished from her mind. More and more she had

  come to take her curious situation for granted, to abandon all

  thoughts of either yesterday or tomorrow. That was the natural

  effect of life in the hopfields; it narrowed the range of your

  consciousness to the passing minute. You could not struggle with

  nebulous mental problems when you were everlastingly sleepy and

  everlastingly occupied--for when you were not at work in the fields

  you were either cooking, or fetching things from the village, or

  coaxing a fire out of wet sticks, or trudging to and fro with cans

  of water. (There was only one water tap in the camp, and that was

  two hundred yards from Dorothy's hut, and the unspeakable earth

  latrine was at the same distance.) It was a life that wore you

  out, used up every ounce of your energy, and kept you profoundly,

  unquestionably happy. In the literal sense of the word, it

  stupefied you. The long days in the fields, the coarse food and

  insufficient sleep, the smell of hops and wood smoke, lulled you

  into an almost beastlike heaviness. Your wits seemed to thicken,

  just as your skin did, in the rain and sunshine and perpetual fresh

  air.

  On Sundays, of course, there was no work in the fields; but Sunday

  morning was a busy time, for it was then that people cooked their

  principal meal of the week, and did their laundering and mending.

  All over the camp, while the jangle of bells from the village

  church came down the wind, mingling with the thin strains of 'O God

  our Help' from the ill-attended open-air service held by St

  Somebody's Mission to Hop-pickers, huge faggot fires were blazing,

  and water boiling in buckets and tin cans and saucepans and

  anything else that people could lay their hands on, and ragged

  washing fluttering from the roofs of all the huts. On the first

  Sunday Dorothy borrowed a basin from the Turles and washed first

  her hair, then her underclothes and Nobby's shirt. Her underclothes

  were in a shocking state. How long she had worn them she did not

  know, but certainly not less than ten days, and they had been slept

  in all that while. Her stockings had hardly any feet left to them,

  and as for her shoes, they only held together because of the mud

  that caked them.

  After she had set the washing to dry she cooked the dinner, and

  they dined opulently off half a stewed chicken (stolen), boiled

  potatoes (stolen), stewed apples (stolen), and tea out of real tea-

  cups with handles on them, borrowed from Mrs Burrows. And after

  dinner, the whole afternoon, Dorothy sat against the sunny side of

  the hut, with a dry hop-poke across her knees to hold her dress

  down, alternately dozing and reawakening. Two-thirds of the people

  in the camp were doing exactly the same thing; just dozing in the

  sun, and waking to gaze at nothing, like cows. It was all you felt

  equal to, after a week of heavy work.

  About three o'clock, as she sat there on the verge of sleep, Nobby

  sauntered by, bare to the waist--his shirt was drying--with a copy

  of a Sunday newspaper that he had succeeded in borrowing. It was

  Pippin's Weekly, the dirtiest of the five dirty Sunday newspapers.

  He dropped it in Dorothy's lap as he passed.

  'Have a read of that, kid,' he said generously.

  Dorothy took Pippin's Weekly and laid it across her knees, feeling

  herself far too sleepy to read. A huge headline stared her in the

  face: 'PASSION DRAMA IN COUNTRY RECTORY.' And then there were

  some more headlines, and something in leaded type, and an inset

  photograph of a girl's face. For the space of five seconds or

  thereabouts Dorothy was actually gazing at a blackish, smudgy, but

  quite recognizable portrait of herself.

  There was a column or so of print beneath the photograph. As a

  matter of fact, most of the newspapers had dropped the 'Rector's

  Daughter' mystery by this time, for it was more than a fortnight

  old and stale news. But Pippin's Weekly cared little whether its

  news was new so long as it was spicy, and that week's crop of rapes

  and murders had been a poor one. They
were giving the 'Rector's

  Daughter' one final boost--giving her, in fact, the place of honour

  at the top left-hand corner of the front page.

  Dorothy gazed inertly at the photograph. A girl's face, looking

  out at her from beds of black unappetizing print--it conveyed

  absolutely nothing to her mind. She re-read mechanically the

  words, 'PASSION DRAMA IN COUNTRY RECTORY', without either

  understanding them or feeling the slightest interest in them. She

  was, she discovered, totally unequal to the effort of reading; even

  the effort of looking at the photographs was too much for her.

  Heavy sleep was weighing down her head. Her eyes, in the act of

  closing, flitted across the page to a photograph that was either of

  Lord Snowden or of the man who wouldn't wear a truss, and then, in

  the same instant, she fell asleep, with Pippin's Weekly across her

  knees.

  It was not uncomfortable against the corrugated iron wall of the

  hut, and she hardly stirred till six o'clock, when Nobby woke her

  up to tell her that he had got tea ready; whereat Dorothy put

  Pippin's Weekly thriftily away (it would come in for lighting the

  fire), without looking at it again. So for the moment the chance

  of solving her problem passed by. And the problem might have

  remained unsolved even for months longer, had not a disagreeable

  accident, a week later, frightened her out of the contented and

  unreflecting state in which she was living.

  5

  The following Sunday night two policemen suddenly descended upon

  the camp and arrested Nobby and two others for theft.

  It happened all in a moment, and Nobby could not have escaped

  even if he had been warned beforehand, for the countryside was

  pullulating with special constables. There are vast numbers of

  special constables in Kent. They are sworn in every autumn--a sort

  of militia to deal with the marauding tribes of hop-pickers. The

  farmers had been growing tired of the orchard-robbing, and had

  decided to make an example, in terrorem.

  Of course there was a tremendous uproar in the camp. Dorothy came

  out of her hut to discover what was the matter, and saw a firelit

  ring of people towards which everyone was running. She ran after

  them, and a horrid chill went through her, because it seemed to her

  that she knew already what it was that had happened. She managed

  to wriggle her way to the front of the crowd, and saw the very

  thing that she had been fearing.

  There stood Nobby, in the grip of an enormous policeman, and

  another policeman was holding two frightened youths by the arms.

  One of them, a wretched child hardly sixteen years old, was crying

  bitterly. Mr Cairns, a stiff-built man with grey whiskers, and two

  farm hands, were keeping guard over the stolen property that had

  been dug out of the straw of Nobby's hut. Exhibit A, a pile of

  apples; Exhibit B, some blood-stained chicken feathers. Nobby

  caught sight of Dorothy among the crowd, grinned at her with a

  flash of large teeth, and winked. There was a confused din of

  shouting:

  'Look at the pore little b-- crying! Let 'im go! Bloody shame,

  pore little kid like that! Serve the young bastard right, getting

  us all into trouble! Let 'im go! Always got to put the blame on

  us bloody hop-pickers! Can't lose a bloody apple without it's us

  that's took it. Let 'im go! Shut up, can't you? S'pose they was

  YOUR bloody apples? Wouldn't YOU bloodiwell--' etc., etc., etc.

  And then: 'Stand back mate! 'Ere comes the kid's mother.'

  A huge Toby jug of a woman, with monstrous breasts and her hair

  coming down her back, forced her way through the ring of people and

  began roaring first at the policeman and Mr Cairns, then at Nobby,

  who had led her son astray. Finally the farm hands managed to drag

  her away. Through the woman's yells Dorothy could hear Mr Cairns

  gruffly interrogating Nobby:

  'Now then, young man, just you own up and tell us who you shared

  them apples with! We're going to put a stop to this thieving game,

 
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